Nurses and midwives have been warned that a global shortage of hepatitis B vaccines is “impacting severely” on the UK and is likely to limit the country’s supply until early 2018.
Public Health England gave the warning in a letter sent to nursing and midwifery professional organisations in England last month, at the same time that it issued national advice on how to prioritise the limited stock.
“Occupational health departments have been asked.. to discuss the need for curriculum realignment”
The letter stated that the shortage, which is the result of manufacturing problems, had been “particularly critical” last month, but noted that the risk of catching hepatitis B infection in the UK was “very low”.
The letter was accompanied by guidance on how clinicians should ensure the vaccine was available for those most at risk of exposure to hepatitis B.
Nurses who are due a booster five years after their initial vaccination were able to safely defer this until early 2018, said the letter sent on 11 August, which was jointly signed by Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation, hepatitis and blood safety at PHE, and its deputy chief nurse Joanne Bosanquet.
However, student nurses and midwives may need to have their vaccination delayed until early 2018, noted the letter.
“Occupational health departments have been asked to assess the risk for any students in universities who undertake clinical procedures in the first year, and to discuss the need for curriculum realignment for any students who cannot be vaccinated,” it said.
“[The shortage is] under constant review to ensure that available supply is able to match the clinical need for the rest of the year”
Any nurse or midwife who is exposed to hepatitis B and is unable to access the vaccine should be referred to urgent care for assessment, stressed the letter.
Meanwhile, services that use hepatitis B vaccine have been asked to follow temporary recommendations on prioritising vaccines, issued by PHE over the summer.
In addition, staff should only order small amounts of stock on a frequent basis rather than stockpiling, must coordinate supplies across their service, and use alternative products including combined hepatitis A and B vaccines.
The letter highlighted that the vaccination programme for children born to mothers infected with hepatitis B could continue. “There should be no delay in providing vaccines to these children,” it stated.
The hexavalent vaccine (DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB) due to be used in the routine childhood immunisation programme from late September is not affected by supply constraints, it added.
Dr Ramsay and Ms Bosanquet said that the shortage was ”under constant review to ensure that available supply is able to match the clinical need for the rest of the year”.